Commonwealth Games 2010 By Richard Eaton

Its debut in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur brought worldwide television coverage which was unprecedented for the sport. Its reappearance in Delhi brought high definition images of a final in which Matthew beat compatriot James Willstrop which are the best yet seen for squash.
 
What's more, its staging in a $75 million hall at Siri Fort - originally built to repel the Mongol hordes but now accommodating as many invading foreigners as possible - created a grand ambience which no other squash tournament can match.
 
Matthew was aware of most of this, even before he got there, and so treated the Games as more important than anything else.
 
“I made a decision not to play a major tournament in Egypt (the El Gouna International, a $142,000 PSA Super Series Platinum tournament) later this week," he explained after winning his second Commonwealth Gold medal.
 
"So I put aside thoughts of regaining the World No.1 ranking for the sake of two gold medals. It is an amazing feeling. It's definitely the biggest moment of my career."
 
But there was another reason why this success was even more typical of Matthew's careful planning, level-headedness, and disciplined focus.
 
He had been ill, and still appeared to be convalescing as he came into the tournament. He had not competed in the six weeks since he lost in the quarter-finals of the Hong Kong Open, and after two matches barely looked fit enough to last the course in Delhi.
 
But he avoided panic, and concentrated on taking the best from each situation and seeing how far it got him. Few players have maximised their ability as well as this.
 
Matthew's movement was distinctly impaired in his opener, in which he lost the third game and had to come from 7-10 down in the second before beating Nafizwan Adnan, a Malaysian outside the top 50, by 11-6 13-11, 8-11, 11-3.
 
Matthew moved better, but still looked at risk of a surprise defeat, when he won 10-12 11-3 11-5 11-5 against Aamir Atlas Khan. The talented and combative Pakistani once bundled the favourite off his feet and looked mighty miffed when the referee forgot he had won the first game and called match ball to Matthew in the third game.
 
Not until Matthew impressively beat Cameron Pilley, the seventh-seeded Australian 11-7 11-5 11-6 in the semi-finals, did it seem likely he would go all the way.
 
After that he beat Peter Barker, for whom the Games also represented a powerful dream, 11-9 11-2 11-9 by which time it was clear that Matthew was setting up an unusual English triumph.
 
It was also evident that a more one-sided final against James Willstrop was likely than their passionate contests in the British Open and British National finals, and that the fiercely motivated Barker would be near-impossible to beat in the third place play-off.
 
For him, that too was one of his greatest moments. For England, it was gold, silver and bronze.
 
But Willstrop had too little fuel in the tank. It had been spilt on court in the earlier rounds, much of it in his amazing quarter-final with David Palmer, an old foe and the most tenacious of the lot.
 
Palmer had hopes of following his bronze medal in Kuala Lumpur and his silver in Melbourne with gold in Delhi, in the penultimate high profile tournament of his career. But they were destroyed amidst collisions, confusion, and controversy, which brought an amazing survival for Willstrop after about an hour on the precipice of defeat.

The Englishman was within a few seconds of quitting amidst disputes and delays on a dangerously slippery court against the twice former World Champion from Australia.
 
Willstrop nevertheless clawed courageously back from two games down against a 34-year-old who found his dream receding cruelly amidst bouts of cramp after getting within two points of victory at 8-7 in the fourth game.
 
The score was 9-11 8-11 11-5 11-8 11-5 and it took 111 minutes. Even though Willstrop had an economic semi-final win over Mohammed Azlan Iskandar, the huge quarter-final effort scuppered his best hopes in the final, and Matthew cruised comfortably to an anti-climactic 11-6 11-7 11-7 win.
 
The other singles champion, Nicol David, achieved a notable atonement with her straight games victory in the final, against Jenny Duncalf.
 
David's 2006 Commonwealth Games failure had been "a big turning point," she said. “It took quite a bit of time to understand it, and I learned a lot."
 
It confirmed to herself the value of basing herself thousands of miles from home with Coach Liz Irving, and began the long attempts to evolve her game so that she did not always have to rely on her great speed and her ability to contain and defend.
 
There was rarely much doubt that David would succeed. She had won the World Open without dropping a game three weeks before in Sharm El-Sheikh, and managed to do it again in Delhi.
 
Joshna Chinappa, the unseeded but hard-hitting Indian player, came as close as anyone to troubling her, holding a game ball in the second game of an 11-5 12-10 11-7 defeat.
 
But no-one else really did even though Duncalf played near her best in the third game of her 11-3 11-5 11-7 defeat.
 
Asked what was different from four years ago, David replied: “There is so much I can't even start. I have learned so much. Definitely finding myself, and adding a lot of things to my game. And just knowing players better, so that you know at a certain point how to respond.
 
“It was such a turning point at the last Commonwealth Games that I took two steps back to find what I needed to do.”
 
The unluckiest player was Alison Waters, who reached game ball for a two-game lead against Duncalf, but could get no further. By then an Achilles problem, exacerbated against Joelle King, was deteriorating, and after slipping to a 6-11 12-10 11-9 11-4 defeat, Waters took no further part in the Games.
 
It was a triply painful blow for the third seed, for in addition to being unable to contest a bronze medal match against the Kasey Brown, Waters had to relinquish two other good chances of medals, withdrawing from the Women's and Mixed Doubles.
 
Commonwealth Games, Delhi, India
Men's Final:
[1] Nick Matthew (ENG) bt [2] James Willstrop (ENG) 11-6, 11-7, 11-7
 
Bronze Medal Play-off:
[3] Peter Barker (ENG) bt [6] Mohd Azlan Iskandar (MAS) 11-5, 11-4, 11-2
 
Women's Final:
[1] Nicol David (MAS) bt [2] Jenny Duncalf (ENG) 11-3, 11-5, 11-7
 
Bronze Medal Play-off:
[6] Kasey Brown (AUS) bt [3] Alison Waters (ENG) w/o
 
“It is an amazing feeling. It's definitely the biggest moment of my career."

Nick Matthew gave up his chance of immediately reclaiming the prized World No.1 ranking to concentrate on winning gold medals at the Commonwealth Games. Lest the Egyptians and the French suggest this just confirms an ugly rumour – another mad Englishman – it's worth underlining how important these Games have become, for squash as well as for Matthew.